Published: September 22nd 2008September 22nd 2008
I arrived in Morocco several days ago now, and I want to say, "Welcome back to the sights, smells and tastes of the 3rd World!" On Friday the 19th, we boarded the Tanger Jet for the supposed 1:00 pm departure for Tangiers. While waiting, we received an announcement that due to mechanical problems, we would have to take the 3:00 pm ferry instead. It felt like a refugee exodus with everyone lugging personal belongings, as we all abandoned ship! There were many day trippers from Spain, going over to Tangiers for some shopping. I met Andy and Dora from London onboard, and decided to also go to Chefchaouen, set beneath the Rif mountains, rather than stay in the port city of Tangiers. We found the local bus station, and a 2.5 hour, smelly, sticky, local bus ride later, we arrived in Chefchaouen, a pretty city painted in a bright blue colour, that dominates the houses and street walls. We were set upon by touts trying to sell us on their accomodation, tours, kif (locally grown hashish), etc. Very annoying until we flagged a Grand Taxi to take us up into the old Medina, where we finally found room at the Bacelona
Hotel, run by a Spanish family. When the boy saw us walking up the street, he ran to turn on the light at his hotel. Simple, blue painted rooms, were basic, but clean enough, for only 60 Dirham/night. The exchange rate is just over 11 Dh/Euro, or just over 7 Dh/Cdn Dollar. So, much better pricing than in Spain of course. We discovered that the cultivation and sale of hashish is officially illegal, but obviously tolerated as a long standing practise. We took supper at the Al-Kasbah Restaurant next door, seated in a cute little blue painted alcove, like in a Berber tent. The propietor finished his post Ramadam meal before serving us after 6:30 pm.
I really must time my journeys to the Islamic counties a little better next time. Securing food throughout the day time hours from sunrise to sundown, can really be quite challenging, with the locals observing the Ramadam fasting period. My cash burn rate will decrease quite a bit now that I am out of the Eurozone. This is a good thing as I've just read an english language newpaper for the first time since departure from Canada, and I am shocked to read
of the continuing, and worsening, global financial crisis.
After a delicious supper of a local set meal, including a lamb shiskabob main course, we wanted to go for a bit of a stroll after such a long travel day. That project was very problematic with nearly every shopkeeper engaging us in conversation and entreating us to please come inside to take a tea and "only look" at his merchandise! We ran into Abdul who invited us into his carpet shop and talked our ear off, offering us the local beverage, "Berber Scotch", which is really the sugared mint tea that is served everywhere. We listened politely to his sales pitch, before taking our leave. Many young men in the streets were also trying to sell us big chunks of hash, and even when saying that I didn't smoke, that did not dissuade them from trying to make a sale.
The place is overrun with stray cats feeding on scraps of food or trash in the streets.
On Saturday the 20th, before departing for Fez, I went on a little hike up to an abandoned Mosque, for good views of the town. The town was still sleeping except
for the laundry women down at the Ras el-Maa River. I saw some really interesting faces and sights, but the locals are sensitive to having their photos taken, so out of respect for that, I missed many opportunities. This is where I need my larger camera with the great zoom lens. While at the top of the now ruined mosque, a local lad of 20 something came up to chat. He says he is a big cultivator of hashish in the mountains, and has enterprises around the world. When we looked down at the local farmers, he said that they work too hard, and for what? It was nice observing the pulse of the rural life, unchanged for centuries. Old ladies carrying bundles of sticks on their backs, drawing water from a bucket at the community well. I played marbles in the dirt with a couple of young boys. Donkey transport, as in Egypt is still quite popular with locals, as the beasts are laden with baskets containing various items, even little lambs going to the markets!
I departed Chefchaouen that afternoon on the much nicer CTM bus, with air-conditioning this time. But the ride was only a little
less bumpy and windy, rocking back and forth on the narrow, winding blacktop. I arrived in Fez on Saturday, once again having to run the tout gauntlet out of the bus station, much to everyone's annoyance. I checked into the adequate Hotel Central near the CTM bus station, but the price is now 130 Dh/night with a wash basin in the room. It is quite airy and bright, and I only had to deal with two cockroaches scurrying along the floor! I went for a walk to explore the Ville Nouvelle and ran into a friendly young couple from Belgium, Yves and Steffea, out on their first excursion out of Europe. We had tea at an outdoor cafe, until water came splashing down from the 2nd floor, and later went for a fine dinner at Restaurant Marrakech. I went out for a bottle of water and was deluged by a big monsoon-like rainstorm before I could get back to my hotel. Like many locals, taking shelter under the scant overhanging shelter offered by the nearest building.
My shower was another experience as it is on the ground floor, outside in the courtyard, behind a wooden door stall. The water
was hot though, and when I turned the water on, the bugs began scrambling out of the drain. I sent them back from whence they came before feeling comfortable enough to continue!
Yesterday, I had a very difficult time finding anything that looked like breakfast. Luckily, the 3 Star Hotel Mounia restaurant, opened up again just for me, even though they had already closed. I thanked them for taking pity on a poor traveler! I received a plate of leftover pastries, bread, olives, juice, and a full pot of coffee made just for me. Met up with Yves and Steffea, and we continued our explorations of the city, this time in the chaos of the old Medina. Our senses were assaulted by various nasty odours from the fish and meat shops, as we pressed deaper into the narrow alleyways of the Medina. The place was heavily congested with locals shopping, tourists gawking, and pack mules carrying goods. There was much bumping, jostling, shouting, and an overall confusion of the senses. Various artisans and trades congregate in the Medina, plying their trades, from metal smiths pounding out ornate plates, to shoemakers, and carpenters creating ornate, carved doors. Near the tannery,
one butcher shop had a severed goats head on a silver platter for sale. What would you do with that I wondered? We were able to ascend to a good vantage point overlooking the tannery pits where the skins are prepared. We were offered a sprig of mint leaves to ward off the foul, gut wrenching odour eminating from the pits below, where the skins are treated and coloured. The freshly scraped skins are first soaked in vats of pigeon crap and cow urine for a week before being coloured. We discovered that the workers receive, maximum, 50 Dirhams/day, just less than 5 Euros. We also learned that this centuries old process, produces world renowned Fassi leather products.
We were slightly lost inside the labyrinth-like maze of narrow alleyways, so we ended paying an enterprizing local boy 10 Dh to lead us out the gate where we could collect our bearings. We found a rooftop terrace to take our supper at Le Kasbah where we could watch the activity below. One thing we noticed is that tempers tend to flare near the end of the daylight hours before the locals break their fast. We witnessed many fights and near
fights break out in the streets.
After this we sampled a few mini-bottles of the local beer, Flag Special, served up in an elegant 3 Star Hotel outside the Medina. At one point we had 7 travellers chatting and drinking down beers. I've noticed that most of the travellers I have run into so far are in their 20s. Mostly, it is only local men sitting around in the local cafes, enjoying their tea. Most of the older women cover their heads, but the younger women tend not to do so.
And this afternoon, I am making a break for the far south by local bus, to get into the Sahara desert. I am not sure how this is going to unfold yet, but I am stopping overnight in Midelt, about half way to Erg Chebbi, and the Sahara Sands. I will catch up with you in Marrakesh later in the week.
There are more photos below